Friday, July 11, 2014

Betsy - Challenge Three: This Day in History

For the This Day in History challenge, I decided to make an Irish dish to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, a pivotal moment in Irish history. I am of Irish descent, and I studied abroad in Ireland in college, so to say this was up my alley is a bit of an understatement. This choice caused a couple issues; Irish history is notoriously sketchy up to the late 18th century, as Irish history relied heavily on the oral tradition, so primary source documentation is hard to find; the Battle of the Boyne occured in 1690, before the Gregorian calendar was adopted, meaning that the "date" it happened is a sketchy concept; and Irish history and culture has been heavily mythologized, making it difficult to separate the fact from the corned-beef-and-cabbage-lace-curtain-Irish fiction.

Long story short, I solved these problems with the following decisions:
  • I utilized recipes and resources from the 19th century, as these were actually documentable; they didn't go back to the original date of the event, but there's no rule that says they have to.
  • I picked July 11th; the original battle occurred on July 1st of the Julian calendar, which corresponds to July 11th in the new style.
  • I went with the most traditional dish I could find, relied basically zero on secondary sources, and trusted my instincts as to what I know about Irish culture.
For a dish, I picked colcannon. When I was in Ireland, I ate colcannon several times, but I've never cooked it before. It is a very traditional dish of mashed potatoes and cabbage. Although potatoes were introduced to Ireland before the Battle of the Boyne, they really didn't take off as the staple food we now associate with Irish culture until some years later. But, we've already established I'm working within the 19th century, when potatoes were well-established in Irish foodways.

I checked a couple different recipes and sources for info on colcannon. Here's an excerpt from Tubber Derg, a book of Irish stories published in 1869:

I found similar references to how colcannon was eaten in other sources. Later recipes from the 1870s and 1880s have instructions for colcannon that sound like fancy puddings, involving eggs and breadcrumbs and even cheese crusts.

This recipe, from The Cooks Oracle, dated 1825, seems slightly more traditional, though still baked in a mould. Recipes seem to call for spinach, leeks, or cabbage interchangeably.

Also, really plain. Whatever. It's Irish.

The Challenge: This Day In History

The Recipe: Colcannon (No. 108) from The Cook's Oracle

The Date/Year and Region: 1825/England

How Did You Make It: I did exactly what the recipe said. I boiled potatoes (probably about two pounds?) and half a head of cabbage (shredded) separately. I drained off the cabbage and potatoes, put the cabbage in the same pan as the potatoes, and mashed away. I added half a stick (4 T) of butter, plus salt and pepper to taste (probably about a tsp of each, but I didn't measure). I put the whole thing in a casserole dish, scored the top, and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes.

Time to Complete: Hard to say - the potatoes refused to cook quickly, and I was working on several dishes at once. Maybe half an hour?

Total Cost: The potatoes were about $1, the cabbage was $.32, and the butter was negligible. This made about 5 or 6 servings - super, super economical.

How Successful Was It?:  You'd think mashed potatoes with cabbage would be pretty "meh", right? It was actually quite tasty. The Gentleman Friend who taste-tested declared it very good (then again he's not really at liberty to give his honest opinion, but he insisted it was good). I'm going to say that putting in that much butter will make anything taste good.

How Accurate Is It?: Besides the accommodations/creativity listed at the beginning of this, I'd say I did a damn good job of keeping close to the original recipe. I even resisted the urge to add milk to the thing. 

The finished dish, out of the oven.

With the rest of the meal - spring green salad and beef roast. Sorta Irish?

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like something that everyone has their own family recipe handed down orally and changed a bit every generation. I tried three different things. I finally came up with a recipe for Cracker Jack in honor of the 1893 World's Fair and the day Babe Ruth made his MLB debut with the Boston Red Sox, the home team around here.